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RestoReview: Scarpetta

Dear Friends & Eaters,

With so many Italian restaurants and such a rich Italian heritage, New York should be the place to go when you want to have a dish of spaghetti al pomodoro on this side of the pond, right? However, that is not always the case.  In many occasions I have ordered the simplest of dishes to test the kitchen of a restaurant only to be disappointed because the flavor did not quite match the hype.

For me spaghetti al pomodoro is simple and straight forward but also the ultimate test for a chef. You would imagine that it is difficult to mess up with a recipe that calls for few ingredients and little time, but to make this simple dish really memorable you need technique and respect for the ingredients.  But sometimes you do find a great restaurant where the technique, respect for the ingredients and solid values turn every dish into an edible masterpiece.  I am talking about spaghetti al pomodoro here, the most humble and unassuming dish, but we should really be talking about all the dishes you can order at Scarpetta, one of my favorite Italian restaurants. It takes skills, passion and patience to master simple food with modern complexity and to breath new life into recipes that every grandmother would prepare: you can find this and more at Scarpetta.

 

Like its namesake, everything in this restaurant is so delicious that you will want to lick the plate. A “scarpetta” is traditionally a piece of bread that you use to collect the sauce from a plate when you are finished eating – my blue blood grandma would first cringe at the sigth, then be flattered that I liked her food so much.  That gesture of appreciation is considered the ultimate compliment to the chef in many Mediterranean cultures :-) . And you will find yourself reaching out for the bread basket more than once to clean the plate before you during your meal at Scarpetta.

I often find that some restaurants describe their food in a very baroque way, and the more baroque the more underwhelming the food is. The opposite applies toScarpetta’s menu: the description of the dishes is unassuming and almost too simple for dishes that are as pleasing to the eye as they are delicious.  Taste buds speak louder than words: this seems to be Scott Conant’s philosophy and I could not agree more. You have seen Chef Conant in many shows on TV and he has become a household name but has kept his craft the priority.  You might find his TV persona somewhat abrasive with the contestants of food shows he judges, but Chef Conant does not seem to tolerate hyperboles when it comes to food: if the flavor is missing, a good name won’t rescue your dish.  I find this integrity appealing

When I go to Scarpetta in NY, my first order is the spaghetti al pomodoro, because they remind me of the way food should taste, simple but crafted with care and attention to detail: basil is infused in the sauce and the handmade spaghetti almost melt in your mouth. The spaghetti are addictive!  Of course I should not just focus on one dish since I usually order many. I recently dined at Scarpetta and had raw yellowtail, creamy polenta and a perfectly braised octopus, along with rabbit agnolotti and the spaghetti of course.  Dessert was amaretto chocolate cake and meyer lemon mousse.  Every dish was flavorful and impressive in its simplicity.  Scarpetta is also a very consistent restaurant: you can go there once or 10 times, the standard is always very high and you will have a great experience from the bread basket (with the most amazing Stromboli) to petit fours.  I cannot wait for my next visit… as I once told Chef Conant, he puts the flavors experienced by children with Italian grandmas into modern Italian food.

Ciao